My Uniform: Block Printer Jenny CooperShare
Every month we ask our friends how they found their personal style and to share the pieces that make up their daily “uniforms.”
Jenny Cooper is a woman of many talents: Artist, clothing designer, “dilettante” environmentalist—she’s worn the title of all at some point, often wearing each at different moments throughout a single day. Having spent years on the design team at J.Crew (credited with launching crewcuts) she recently decided to open a coffee shop in the garage of her Brooklyn home. Called IXV coffee, the project is built on the concept of community and sustainability, with a no waste goal. Here, she breaks down how she worked with us on a very special block-print Edition and how she found her consistent personal style despite her many “hats,” so to speak. Plus, we chatted with Jeremy Fritzhand, owner of Studio Bagru, about his work developing the block printing studio that created our blocks.
ON BLOCK PRINTING
Jenny: I work with Jeremy Fritzhand who is based in Jaipur, India and runs a multifaceted block printing shop called Studio Bagru. I design the blocks with an idea of how they will ultimately transform a garment into a new one and save it from the landfill. I love taking something old that you have fallen out of love with and making it something that you are in love with. So many things are often discarded because of stains or imperfections that develop over time. Block printing immediately brings them back to life (it’s why I love working with dots and paisleys as they conceal those imperfections). For Alex Mill, we made a truly special, original bandana block design—it’s a combination of four blocks, hand carved in India, and when you put them together they become a complete bandana (with the little “X” logo for Alex Mill). The block printing artisans in India have devoted their lives to perfecting their craft and I am just a beginner. But if I can bring even a small portion of the magic, and use it to save clothing from being discarded I’ll be happy.
Jeremy: I started my company after visiting Bagru on a term abroad from college—I developed a business model that would shift control of the supply chain from intermediaries and wholesalers back into the hands of the block printing artisans. Jenny has incredible intuition when it comes to style, color, and trend. She is the mastermind behind the creative vision of all our collaborations. Studio Bagru is able to bring to life the blocks, prints, and products she envisions. When possible, we run BYOC (bring your own clothes) events together in NY and other places, teaching participants how to block print, offering design consultation, and promoting craft, slow fashion, and zero-waste. Every piece we create is one of a kind due to the hand made nature of the process. The small imperfections and irregularities are like brushstrokes on a painting. It is the essence of slow fashion and hand made.
ON A MULTI-FACETED CAREER
Jenny: I studied studio arts and worked in art galleries after college. I was painfully shy so I couldn’t actually sell anything when I worked in a gallery. I was interested in the art but ultimately in order to move up in art galleries you have to sell things. I applied to FIT and I remember someone told me that women made bad designers because they thought about dressing themselves too much. An ironic thought in light of the industry today. I won an internship at Tahari and during my time there, at such a young age, I had the opportunity to design a suiting collection. I moved on to J.Crew and spent many years there. When I finally left, I decided I wanted to throw an espresso machine in my garage and open the door to my neighborhood. It’s a lengthy and nonsensical process getting permits from the city, so during that time I took a trip to India to visit Studio Bagru and fell in love with block printing. IXV coffee is named after my grandfather and we are trying to create a new model of a coffee shop, where you bring your reusable mug, we fill it, and then you can drop the cup off at the end of the day and I will clean it so it’ll be ready for you the next morning. I hope it will help break the habit of single-use cups that has sprung up over the past decade, and encourage a circular approach to your morning coffee that will spill over into the rest of your life.
Jenny: I think I have always been a little nervous about how much trash we create. Our systems are not set up to handle what we throw at it today. People are encouraged to purchase endlessly, making as much waste as they want with no accountability to the companies doing the encouraging. But I think it’s actually really easy to make sustainable changes. Whenever you buy something ask yourself, am I still going to love this in 10 years? It’s amazing how long clothes will last if you take care of them. What’s scary about the current garment industry is that production techniques have degraded to the point where the product won’t last. People blend polyester in fabrics and that shortens the life expectancy. Natural fibers just last longer. I have and wear some of my grandfather’s jackets—things that are made with attention, care, and quality just last longer. I remember at J.Crew how much time we spent trying to make things look old, but—spoiler!—you can actually just do it yourself by wearing and loving your clothes.
ON BEING A BUSY WORKING MOM
Jenny: I have two teenage boys, ages 14 and 17. It’s good for them to see their parents busy; it’s the way we end up being more productive. I think the kids enjoy it; it frees them up from parental scrutiny and they know they aren’t the center of the universe. They’re a microcosm. You act the way you want your kids to act and if you’re doing things that you care about, they follow suit. Granted right now, for them, life is video games! Sustainability is definitely something that needs to be taught in schools and practiced in culture. There’s something about the single-use mentality that can feel gratifying and indulgent, but people’s minds are changing and we need to have a cultural shift away from overconsumption.
3 THINGS WITH JENNY COOPER
3 professions you’d pursue if not for your current career:
Embroiderer, scientist of some kind, maybe a botanist or someone who studies garbage. Or a lawyer, which I would hate, but I could rant more.
3 small shifts anyone can make to live more sustainably:
Carry a reusable cup, buy a couple of stainless steel bins and use them for takeout orders, tie a bandana around your bag and use it as a napkin.
Your uniform in 3 pieces:
Vintage men’s pants, colorful striped T-shirt, denim jacket.
Thank you Jenny!
As told to AM on September 19th, 2019
Photographed by Mikey De Temple (@mikeydetemple) at Jenny’s home in Gowanus, Brooklyn